Historic fire museum venue to be taken over by art college

Sale confirmed despite campaign to retain the museum at the current Edinburgh site.

Heritage: One of the exhibits at the Museum of Fire.

Heritage: One of the exhibits at the Museum of Fire.

A historic fire station which celebrates centuries of Scotland’s firefighting history is to be bought by the University of Edinburgh.

The announcement is a blow for campaigners who have been fighting to retain the Museum of Fire at Lauriston Place.

A petition urging the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service not to sell the building has gathered more than 5000 signatures.

Supporters argue that moving the museum to a purpose-built site on the outskirts of the city will mean the valuable history of the Lauriston Place venue – which is the only Victorian fire station remaining in the UK – will be lost.

Others claim visitors will be less inclined to travel outwith the city centre to view the exhibits, which include a range of vintage fire engines and firefighting equipment.

The oldest items on display are the “cleikes of iron” which were used to pull burning thatch from the roof of Edinburgh Castle in the 1400s.

The fire service confirmed on Friday that the university, which already runs the neighbouring Edinburgh College of Art building, was its preferred bidder following an open market sale process.

It is likely to take control of the building by the start of 2017 and university bosses have pledged to carry out a “sympathetic refurbishment” which will be “sensitive to its past use”.

The former fire headquarters will form part of Edinburgh College of Art’s plans to create an arts and culture hub in the area.

Sarah O’Donnell, director of finance and contractual services at the fire service, said: “We are delighted that this important building will transfer to the care of the University of Edinburgh.

“They share our understanding of the building’s past and will ensure it remains an important part of Edinburgh’s heritage long into the future.

“We will shortly announce plans for an exciting new home for the Museum of Fire that will underline our commitment to the continued promotion of Edinburgh’s pivotal role in the history of fire and rescue.”

Stuart Bennett, acting principal of Edinburgh College of Art, said his team was looking forward to “breathing new life” into the iconic building.

He added: “We will now begin the process of planning for a sympathetic refurbishment that can fulfil its potential as part of a world class College of Art, of which the city of Edinburgh can be justifiably proud.”

Campaigner George Gray said the move was disappointing but not surprising.

He said: “They told us in 2013 that they would only sell the part of the building which the museum was not in, but I think they have had a plan since then to sell the whole building.

“The museum was accredited, but they allowed that to lapse.”